Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module HIST45130: Intellectuals and Public Opinion in Global History

Department: History

HIST45130: Intellectuals and Public Opinion in Global History

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To familiarise students with different approaches to global and comparative history through the intellectual history of public opinion.
  • To introduce students to classic theories of public opinion and mass culture as both sources of academic inspiration and as primary sources, and to consider how to relate these theories to more recent secondary scholarship on the history of public opinion.
  • To make students aware of the ways historians can contribute to on-going discussions of the role of public opinion in different national and global contexts, and to help them develop the skills necessary to engage with non-historians who are active in contemporary debates.


  • “Ignore public opinion at your own peril.” For good or for ill – whether in practice or only in theory – public opinion is assumed to exert a powerful influence on contemporary politics and society. Yet the commonsensical significance ascribed to public opinion today conceals a complex history that spans centuries and continents. This module explores this global history, with a focus on the different ways in which political thinkers, social scientists, and government officials have conceptualized, quantified, debated, and institutionalized public opinion in the twentieth century.
  • The module is divided into three sections. In the first, we revisit influential debates concerning the rise of public opinion and mass culture that took place during the second quarter of the twentieth century. The work of the figures involved in these heated debates – Walter Lippman and John Dewey, Theodor Adorno and Paul Lazarsfeld – remain important reference points for contemporary discussions of public opinion and the media, and familiarity with them will provide students with a common basis for seminar discussion. We will seek to relate these early theorizations of public opinion to global history by (1) considering the trans-Atlantic and more broadly trans-national dimension of many of these early debates and by (2) contextualizing – within a comparative frame – the effort of these thinkers to construct intellectual genealogies of public opinion, rooting the contemporary concept in an emergent canon of Western political thought. This will prepare us for the second section of the module, in which we consider alternative intellectual genealogies related to the history of public opinion and social survey research in recent scholarship focused on individual nation-states – including the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Germany, and Brazil. Finally, in the third section, our focus will shift from the global history of public opinion to the history of global public opinion, particularly in connection with the efforts launched by NGOs to draw attention to planetary-scale problems of war and environmental catastrophe.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A specialized knowledge and understanding of aspects of Modern History that relate to the history of public opinion and the social sciences.
  • A sophisticated grasp of classic and contemporary debates around the subject of public opinion and its influence on society and politics.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to identify and analyse historical evidence in a sophisticated manner
  • The ability to appreciate, assess and apply advanced historiographical and conceptual approaches to Modern History
  • The ability to manage bodies of historical evidence and historiography, including the gathering, sifting, synthesising, marshalling and presenting of such information
  • The ability to use advanced skills of historical analysis, including posing questions, assessing interpretations, assembling evidence and arguments to enable the evaluation of a hypothesis, which may involve exploring the current limits of knowledge
  • The ability to present historical findings in clear and appropriate written forms
Key Skills:
  • discrimination, judgment and autonomy
  • familiarity with appropriate means of identifying, finding, retrieving, sorting and exchanging information
  • research capabilities, including the ability to pose, consider and solve complex problems
  • structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of written expression
  • intellectual integrity, maturity and an appreciation of the validity of the reasoned views of others

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a range of teaching methods.
  • Seminars and group discussion require students to reflect on and discuss: their prior knowledge and experience; set reading of secondary and, where appropriate, primary readings; information provided during the session. They provide a forum in which to assess and comment critically on the findings of others, defend their conclusions in a reasoned setting, and advance their knowledge and understanding of medieval society and modern scholarly models of medieval society.
  • Structured reading requires students to focus on set materials integral to the knowledge and understanding of the module. It specifically enables the acquisition of detailed knowledge and skills which will be discussed in other areas of the teaching and learning experience.
  • Assessment is by means of a 5000 word essay which requires the acquisition and application of advanced knowledge and understanding of aspects of the history and historiography of feudalism in its various forms, and of relevant theoretical and comparative approaches from other disciplines. Essays require a sustained and coherent argument in defence of a hypothesis, and must be presented in a clearly written and structured form, and with appropriate apparatus.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 Weekly in Term 2 2 hours 20
Reading and Preparation 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment will be a 20 minute oral presentation and a short primary source analysis.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University